Our creativity, rigor, and productivity as a scientific community is increased with the diversity of our membership. Science-enriching diversity falls along many axes, including gender and race, but so many others, as well. We believe that by cultivating and supporting a diverse scientific workforce and leadership, locally, nationally, and internationally, we will be able to ask and answer deeper questions about how the world works, as well as increase our impact in understanding and treating human disease.
Science and academia are not immune to systemic racism and other forms of discrimination. Barriers to entry, inclusion, and leadership in the scientific community have been longstanding and persistent. We recognize that these barriers are complex, and at the societal level have been part of our country since before its inception. However, we also recognize that identifying problems, coming up with concrete solutions, and implementing these solutions is part of our lifeblood as scientists.
In the Nelson lab, we are increasingly aware of the impact of systemic discrimination in our community and in science itself. In looking back, we realize we and our science have been enriched by diverse colleagues, mentors, and mentees. We as individuals and as a team are committed to try to address these problems, regardless of our backgrounds. Thus far, we are leading or participating in the following initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in our scientific community:
Dismantling Barriers to Entry:
- Teach, mentor, and cultivate the next generation of scientists. In 2020, we have begun a lab partnership with a local middle school in the San Francisco Unified School District, which involves monthly interactive Neuroscience sessions and mentorship. This partnership links to a longstanding and highly successful STEM program for underrepresented students, MESA. Members of the lab have long participated in the Science and Health Education Partnership (SEP) program bringing science and scientists to local public schools through hands-on activities and lessons.
- Mentoring trainees from diverse backgrounds. We continue to prioritize mentoring pre-doctoral, doctoral, and postdoctoral students from underrepresented groups, in part through successful local and national programs, such as the UCSF SRTP, UCSF PROPEL, NINDS F99/K00, etc.
Dismantling Barriers to Inclusion:
- Joint lab DEI meetings. These monthly meetings join our lab with Kevin Bender’s at UCSF, and include journal clubs, facilitated discussions, and brainstorming sessions. Our goal is threefold: to better understand the effects of systemic racism and other forms of discrimination on our scientific community, identify the structures that create and perpetuate this discrimination, and take concrete action to dismantle these structures. Thus far we have discussed scientific papers on discrimination in the scientific hiring process, grant review, and funding, and begun to develop best-practices for lab hiring.
- Discussing and citing a more diverse set of colleagues. Citations are lower for women and underrepresented minority scientists when matched for seniority and measures of scientific quality, yet citations are a key contributor to recognition in the field, invitations for talks, and grant funding. We pledge to diversify the authorship of papers we discuss at journal club. Our goal is for the authors of these papers to be at least 50% women and 20% underrepresented in science. We are also now monitoring the diversity of the citations in our draft manuscripts, with a goal of steadily improving the diversity of our reference lists.
- Leadership in local and national DEI initiatives. Lab members have been and will continue to be involved in local activities, such as outreach during admissions and recruitment of the UCSF Neuroscience Graduate Program, mentoring of undergraduates from diverse backgrounds, and leadership in the annual Neuroscience Graduate Program Power Hour. We have also become involved in discussions at the national level through participation in NIH panels on diversity in training.
Dismantling Barriers to Leadership:
- Scientist of the month. Each month, we will profile a scientist on our lab website, with the goal of highlighting a diverse group of scientists who have made or are making seminar contributions to our field.
- Advocacy. On the local and national level, we will advocate with the University administration and scientific leadership to diversify our own faculty, particularly at the highest levels.